1806 -- The first circular letter of the Chowan Association was read at the organization session, that of 1806. Its writer was Elder Lemuel Burkitt. In his introduction he calls attention to the fact that circular letters are an inheritance, and he expresses the hope that they "will continue to be a source of information and edification for your religious improvement." And he continues: The important and melancholy subject to which we shall call your attention at this time is the State of a Christian Backslider. To elucidate the subject in a concise way, we shall first note a few of the signs of a Backslider. Secondly the awful consequences that follow. Thirdly and lastly, some motives for a reclamation. There follows, in clear and easily understood language, not so much a circular letter, as a short and powerful sermon of a great preacher and evangelist, such as Burkitt was.
1807 -- Elder Lemul Burkitt prepared a letter of normal length on the subject of Patience, which well illustrates his extraordinary ability as a thinker and writer, his skill in definition and analysis and in keeping his discussion in the range of the readerís understanding. After stating some characteristics of patience he gives the following definition: "Patience consists in bearing affliction without murmuring, enduring injuries without revenge, and in waiting for suspended favors till God sees meet to bestow them."
1808 -- By Elder James Ross; its subject is "Watchfulness." The writer makes it brief and simple. After giving the Scripture verses in which watchfulness is enjoined, he argues that Christians should watch (1)
the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and also "the smoke of the Pit," to each of which he devotes a brief paragraph; and (2) watch for opportunities to perform such duties as are enjoined in the New Testament, which are not definitely indicated.
1809 -- Elder Martin Ross, appointed to write the letter for 1809 continued the discussion of "Watchfulness," commenting that "a subject of such magnitude and copiousness as this could not be discussed fully in the narrow bounds of a Circular Letter." He would, therefore, consider the letter of last year as an introduction, with the enlargement of subject to read "Watch and remember." (Acts 20:31.)
1810 -- In 1810 Elder James Wright prepared the circular letter on Intemperance, and it is among the best of those written on that subject, and of no little historic value in portraying many characteristics of the daily life of the times. He speaks of the "dreadful torrent of Intemperance" which was drawing thousands into its vortex. By intemperance he means "any excess in the exercise of the powers and passions of our minds, and of the organs, appetites and faculties of our bodies, and the inordinate use of the creatures which God has given us."
1811 -- The letter of 1811 was prepared by the able Elder Richard Poindexter, who after the death of Elder Lemuel Burkitt, November 5, 1807, succeeded him as pastor of the Bertie (Sandy Run) Church. He wrote on Sanctification, an instructive letter, simple and well ordered, in which he maintained that sanctification was not of the body but of the soul and was bestowed at the time of conversion.
1812 -- No record.
1813 -- The letter of 1813 was by a layman, Brother James Woodberry, whose subject as stated in the opening sentence was: "The excellency of the religion of Jesus Christ; its spread and influence, and the means by which it is to be advanced." Its interest is chiefly in missions and for that reason it is historical. Already, early in May, 1813, a year before the organization of the General Baptist Convention at Philadelphia, the Chowan Association was listening to this letter by a layman which reveals that a spirit of progress and interest in world-wide missions and ministerial education was moving among the Baptists of Eastern North Carolina and exciting the enthusiasm of even its laymen.
1814 --Elder James Wright wrote the circular letters in 1814 on Practical Religion. He discussed prayer, the duty of parents to instruct their families in religion, praise and prayers in family and church worship, observance of the Christian sabbath -- Sunday, or the Lord's Day -- brotherly kindness.
1815 -- The circular letter of 1815 was by Elder Aaron Spivey, the loved and devoted minister of the Cashie Church. He wrote a short and simple exposition of the text, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks."
1816 -- The letter of 1816, by Brother John Wheeler of Meherrin Church, who also had the freedom of choosing his subject, was an encomium on the "Holy Bible."
1817 -- In 1817, no provision having been made for the preparation of a letter, on the recommendation of a committee, the circular letter of the Charleston Association of 1809, "On the Duty of Observing the Christian Sabbath" was published.
1818 -- In 1818 the circular letter was prepared by Elder Benjamin of Farnsworth, who had first appeared at the session of the Association of 1817 as a delegate of the newly constituted church at Edenton, which was admitted to the body that year, and for two years was prominent in the meetings. His subject was "Works of Faith." Few better circular letters have ever been written.
1819 -- The letter of 1819 was by Elder Thomas Billings. Its subject was "The Essential Qualifications of a Christian Minister," and it would compare favorably with any other discussion of this important matter ever written. Although it was adapted to the time, it might with profit be republished as a tract and circulated among the Baptist churches of today.
1820 -- In 1820, Elder Thomas Meredith, who was appointed to write, was prevented by illness from doing it.
1821 -- Elder James Wright on the Immutability of God. His letter of 1821 consists for the most part of quotations from the Scriptures to support the thesis that God is unchangeable in his nature and attributes.
1822 -- The letter of 1822 was by Elder William J. Newbern, a delegate from the Wiccacon Church, and designated as a minister. In his circular letter he discussed "Reading or Searching the Scriptures with Diligence," and firmly maintained that the Scriptures were of divine origin, "the only proper and perfect rule of faith and practice, to which we must not add and from which we must not diminish on pain of having our part taken out of the book of life."
1823 -- Elder Jeremiah Etheridge wrote the circular letter of 1823. . The subject was "Christian Experience." "Our design," says he, "is to point out 1st, the nature of Christian experience; 2nd, The means whereby it is improved, and 3rd, some of the advantages resulting from it."
1824 -- For the Association of 1824, no letter had been prepared, but in its place was published a selection from Rippon's Annual Register, recommended by a committee of which Martin Ross was chairman. Its subject was "The Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ," which is discussed in an illuminating way.
1825 -- The letter for 1825 was prepared by the youthful Elder William Hill Jordan. His letter was a discussion of "Spiritual-mindedness." It showed that the writer was of considerable ability, but was much too long, three to five times as long as the usual letter, more than twelve thousand words, requiring several hours to read.
1826 -- In 1826, the circular letter of the Virginia Portsmouth Association was read before the Association and ordered annexed to the Minutes. The nature of this letter may be seen in its first sentence, which reads: "As the declension of vital Godliness in almost every church may be attributed either to false doctrine or false discipline, it has seemed good on this occasion to invite your particular attention to that course of church discipline which to us appears clearly pointed out in the Scriptures."
1827 -- At the Association of 1827 Elder Martin Ross, though present and chosen Moderator, had been "prevented by his afflictions, age and infirmities," from writing the letter; he died before the end of the year. Ross recommended the publication of the circular letter of the Northamptonshire Association of 1801, but in its stead was published Ross's "Biographical Sketch of Brother Thomas Brownrigg," somewhat abridged and with slight additions by the clerk, Elder J.G. Hall.
1828 -- In 1828, Elder James Wright did not have ready the letter he had been asked to prepare, and in its place was published the "Memoir of Elder Martin Ross," written by Elder Thomas Meredith on the request of the Association. It is in ornate English style, and is altogether much the best record we have of the great Baptist champion, but it omits account of many important activities of Ross's life and labors.
1829 -- Elder James Wright wrote on Open and Close Communion. This letter is a brief but well ordered argument for the Baptist position on the Lord's Supper, with special emphasis on the thesis that "If Christians unite in full communion, it must be on the pure principles of the word of God, and not upon mere fancies, desires, feelings or inclinations, for 'Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.'"
1830 -- After 1830 no circular letter was published until 1836. In these years the Association discussed reports on the State of the Churches prepared by committees appointed a year in advance.
1835 -- The Obituary of Turner Carter was written by Andrew M. Craig.
1836 -- The letter of 1836 was by Elder J. J. Finch, of the Edenton Baptist Church. It is a masterly production, and compares favorably with the best of circular letters, including those of the Philadelphia Baptist Association. Its writer, Rev. J. J. Finch, was among our ablest Baptists and distinguished both as a preacher and as an educator. He is one of the few North Carolinians whose sermons have been published in a volume and are still often read; and he was among the first to provide a school for the education of young women.
The contents of the letter on the subject "The Importance of Christian Union" indicate that it was written as a supreme effort of the Chowan Association Baptists to regain the harmonious co-operation of their Kehukee Association brethren. It is of the nature of a tract. Something of its character may be inferred from the following extract: "In all our churches, in all our associations, we should have one general system of operation; to this system we should conform in sentiment, in feeling and in effort. Until this is the case, until there is this general understanding among us, that all must act in concert, governed by the same laws, conform to the same arrangements, and direct our efforts to the same object, we shall continue to labour under those disadvantages that have long depressed our churches, and have to encounter opposition and obstacles the more dangerous and distressing because directed by those who profess to be our brethren. It is time for Baptists to awake and consider their true interests; it is time for them to drop their little controversies, and to cease to oppose each other, and to unite in one general effort in defending the precious truths and doctrines of Christianity, and to support the bleeding cause of our Master." "Where there is union, there the Spirit of the Lord will delight to dwell, and there will he bestow his blessings; but where there is discord and disunion he will not abide. . . ."
1837 No Letter.
1838 -- Neuse Baptist Association Letter was published on "Family Religion."
1839 and following -- not available to the editor.
1880 -- For the Association of 1880, Elder J. G. Hall wrote the letter on "Coldness and Lukewarmness in the Duties of Religion." After the model of the sermons of the day it is developed along three heads:
1. The causes of coldness and lukewarmness. 2. The inconsistency of a cold and lukewarm spirit. 3. The means of overcoming this state of mind. The appeal is largely personal. It is interesting chiefly because it is written at the time of the spread of the paralyzing influence of the anti-missionary spirit in some of the churches of the Association. ===================
The comments in this Index are taken from Paschal's History.
[From George W. Paschal, History of North Carolina Baptists, Volume 2, pp. 313-325. -- jrd]
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